Federal funding was a major focus at the end of 2017. A government shutdown was twice avoided by the passage of two short-term continuing resolutions (CR) that extended federal spending at just below fiscal year (FY) 2017 levels until December 22, 2017 (H.J. Res 123) and January 19, 2018 (H.R. 1370). This is the third CR for FY 2018 and likely not the last. For much of December, Congress focused on a controversial tax bill (H.R. 1) that was signed into law (P.L. 115-97) late in the month. While the provision taxing graduate tuition waivers was removed, universities and research institutions could still feel the impact of slight tax increases on endowments and private industry research and development. Additionally, the law opens the coastal plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and mandates two lease sales to offset the tax cuts. The House passed disaster assistance funding through supplemental appropriations containing $81 billion for communities affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria as well as those impacted by wildfires (H.R. 4667).
Beyond appropriations, the House also addressed science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and fisheries management. Three bipartisan bills promoting involvement and opportunities in STEM for minorities (H.R. 4375), veterans (H.R. 4323), and women (H.R. 4254) passed the House, and two fisheries bills passed out of committee (reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (H.R. 200) and increasing access of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico for recreational fishers (H.R. 3588)).
The changing Earth environment was a common theme amongst new legislation in the House and Senate. The newly introduced bills included assessing coastal vulnerability to ocean acidification (S. 2229), recognizing academic institutions that contribute to coastal flood research and education (H.R. 4640), establishing a national approach for responding to the effects of climate change (H.R. 4490 and S. 2176), researching cloud adjustments (albedo modification) as a potential for climate change intervention, using a portion of offshore drilling revenues to fund conservation (H.R. 4692) promoting living shorelines (H.R. 4525), and clarifying National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s role in post-storm assessments (S. 2242).
Although we are four months into FY 2018, Congress has yet to pass this fiscal year’s appropriations bills. Before doing so, legislators must either raise the budget caps on defense and non-defense spending or lower the amounts in the appropriations bills to conform to the current caps – otherwise, they would trigger sequestration, or across-the-board spending cuts of 13 percent. As they negotiate FY 2018 spending, appropriators will be considering the fast-approaching debt ceiling and FY 2019 bearing down upon them (the president’s FY 2019 budget recommendations are expected in early February).
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